The dust has only just settled on the Cheltenham Festival but Uttoxeter takes centre stage for the running of the Midlands Grand National (3.50 Saturday). Second only to the Grand National itself, in terms of distance, at 4m1½f, the race provides a thorough examination of stamina and jumping ability.
Catching On (9/2) was raised 11lb for winning over 3m at Huntingdon in February, but took a step up in class and distance in his stride when jumping well to win the Devon National, over 3m6½f at Exeter 11 days ago in the style of a rapidly improving horse and looks the one to beat under just a 6lb penalty. The mount of Tony McCoy (pictured) takes another significant step up in class, but could be called the winner halfway down the back straight at Exeter, so the move appears entirely justified.
He also has his stamina to prove over an extra three furlongs, but Exeter becomes very testing on heavy ground, so he should have no worries on that score. Similarly, while his recent improvement has come on soft and heavy going, he won on good going over hurdles as recently as last April, so faster underfoot conditions, while perhaps not ideal, may not prevent him from completing a hat-trick. Of course, much can happen over 4m1½f and 24 fences and there are plenty of runners ready to take advantage if Catching On fails to live up to expectations.
Hawkes Point (13/2), trained by Paul Nicholls, took advantage of his lowest handicap mark when beating Theatrical Star by 2¼ lengths in the Betfred Classic Chase, over 3m5f in January and still looks reasonably treated off a 6lb higher mark. However, he is pretty much exposed as an out-and-out stayer, whose best form is on soft and heavy going, so connections will be hoping that the rain forecast for Staffordshire on Friday gets into the ground.
Shotgun Paddy (12/1) is 6lb better off for 4¼ lengths with Hawkes Point on their running in the Betfred Classic Chase so, strictly, has every chance of reversing the form. However he had already lost his place when unseating his rider in the Betfred Eider, over 4m1f at Newcastle three weeks ago and is another confirmed mudlark.
A similar comment also applies to Bob Ford (20/1), who won the Betfred West Wales National, over 3m4f on heavy going at Ffos Las six weeks ago by a distance, but takes a step up in class off a 12lb higher mark. Unless the heavens open, he may struggle to get competitive at this level.
Global Power (10/1) started favourite for the Betfred West Wales National, but floundered in the heavy going and was pulled up a long way from home. Oliver Sherwood’s nine-year-old returned to form when winning a 0-140 handicap chase over 3m at Ludlow last month but, back up in class and distance, he looks vulnerable off a 9lb higher mark.
Bertie Boru (12/1) won over 2m6½f on soft going at Newbury in November but has suggested on his two most recent starts, both over 3m at Sandown, that a step up to marathon distances could be what he needs at this stage of his career. He is 7lb higher in the weights than his last winning mark and takes a step up in class, but probably doesn’t need bottomless going to be seen to best effect and could be a potential fly in the ointment.
Midlands Grand national Betting Tips Verdict
It is hard to forget the ease with which Catching On won at Exeter, so our betting tips advice is to back CATCHING ON each-way at a current best price of 9/2 with Paddy Power or Ladbrokes. Jonjo O’Neill’s seven-year-old can provide AP McCoy with a memorable victory in his final season in the saddle.